In Psalm 103:1-5, David reminds us of things we should not forget:
Forgiveness of Sins
The forgiveness of sins is the first benefit mentioned by David, and this truly is a great miracle. A holy, pure God cannot look on evil. We are all tainted by sin and have all fallen short of God’s glory. (Rom 3:23) The chasm between us and God was irreconcilable. There was just no way we could bridge this gap. But the cross shows us that the gap has indeed been bridged; in Christ, ‘we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.’ (Eph 1:7) This is only possible because the sinless Saviour died for our sins, because ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’ (Heb 9:22) The Old Testament system of sacrifices for sin foreshadowed what Christ Himself did for us by offering Himself as a sacrifice, as an ‘atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (1 John 2:2)
Peter tells us, ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.’ (1 Pet 3:18) Each week we come to remember what Christ has done for us on Calvary and we can be thankful and grateful for the forgiveness of sins. No matter how often we fail, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9) The benefit of forgiven sins means we can live without guilt and shame and can live in a right relationship not only with God but with other people too. It’s one of the greatest miracles we can ever experience.
The second thing David thanks God for is that He is the One who heals all our diseases. (Ps 103:3) We have looked at many, many miracles of healing this year: God raising people from the dead, adding years to Hezekiah’s life, healing ordinary people in the Gospels and the book of Acts. In every one of these miracles, we have seen how God sees individuals and cares for them, that He meets their personal, individual needs. Matthew tells us, ‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.’ (Matt 14:14) We may not understand everything about the subject of healing; we may not understand why God does not heal everyone instantaneously, but we know that God is able to heal us and is a God of healing: ‘I am the Lord, who heals you.’ (Ex 15:26)
David says that we should remember God ‘who has redeemed your life from the pit.’ (Ps 103:4) First and foremost, this is a picture of what God has done for us on the cross. Sin is a very deep pit indeed; in another psalm, David says, ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’ (Ps 40:2) We were far from God, not only horizontally, as that bridge image reminds us, but vertically. There was no way we could reach God; He was so far from us that not even the tallest amongst us could reach Him! But He reached down to us and lifted us up and set our feet on a rock. David says, ‘you lifted me out of the depths’ (Ps 30:1); Ps 107:41 says, ‘he lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks.’ As we focus on those occasions when God has helped us, faith is fuelled for the next trial, the next difficulty. We know that no one is beyond God’s deliverance and redemption; as Isaiah reminds us, ‘Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.’ (Is 59:1) Jeremiah the prophet was cast into a literal pit, a cistern, but God used Ebed-Melek to work for his rescue (Jer 38); he was delivered and lifted out of that pit. Jonah faced the metaphorical pit of being swallowed by a great fish, but again, as he prayed to God, ‘the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.’ (Jonah 2:10) God specialises in impossible situations; He is able to work miracles to rescue us from deep pits and is our helper and deliverer.
Love & Compassion
David goes on to say that we should remember that God crowns us with love and compassion. (Ps 103:4) God’s love is unfailing, unchanging, everlasting and true. It is the bedrock of our lives. We cannot do anything to make God love us more; we cannot do anything to make God love us less. His love is unconditional; it is there for us, no matter what. If ever we doubt God’s love, Paul reminds us that ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom 5:8) If you want proof that God loves us, look to the cross. ‘This is how we know, this is how we know what love is: Just one look at the cross.’ (‘This Is How We Know’, Matt Redman) This is another reason why our weekly Communion matters so much; it is as we focus on the cross and remember that this is His body, this is His blood shed for us, that we are re-oriented to our true identities as loved children of God.
Compassion is not quite the same as love; it is that ability to come alongside someone and ‘suffer with’ them. Again, is this not the miracle that we find at the cross? God, who had the right to judge us and condemn us, instead came to suffer with us and to offer us His loving help. John tells us ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ (John 3:17) Salvation, God’s great rescue plan, is available to us because of God’s great compassion and love for us; Lamentations 3:22 tells us, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.’
David goes on to remind himself that God ‘satisfies your desires with good things.’ (Ps 103:5) Perhaps the greatest miracle we find in God is satisfaction; ‘godliness with contentment is great gain.’ (1 Tim 6:6) This generation is perhaps the most dissatisfied in history; we have so many material things, but are often deeply dissatisfied, disgruntled people. We have just had Christmas and probably all received some lovely gifts from friends and family at this time, but already perhaps some of us are bored with these gifts and are wanting new ones. Dissatisfaction is the central tenet of the advertising world and so easily pervades our lives.
We often find it hard to believe that God wants to satisfy our desires with good things; we are more used to thinking of God as a killjoy, as the ‘hard parent’, the one who always says ‘no’. Nothing could be further from the truth. James reminds us that ‘every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ (James 1:17) So many things that promise us satisfaction are transitory or illusory. They do not last; they do not satisfy. God, on the other hand, gives us good and perfect gifts; ‘no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.’ (Ps 84:11) Ps 37:4 gives us the promise, ‘Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ We find satisfaction in God not simply in the now, but for eternity. He is able to satisfy us emotionally, physically and spiritually. He fills the God-shaped hole in our hearts; He is the One who is able to keep us going, who sustains us, who fulfils us.
Finally, David says that through God, our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps 103:5) God is the One who renews us. He refreshes us, He restores our souls. (Ps 23:3) One of the things about ageing is that we notice our weariness more; we can’t always do the things we used to do, or at least we can’t do them as easily! I notice a difference even in seven years in how I was when Esther was a baby compared to how I am with Melody! But God is able to renew us and reinvigorate us. Deut 34:7 tells us, ‘Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.’ I believe that is God’s word to all of us who are getting older and perhaps feel our usefulness to God has passed and we are simply in the waiting room to move on to glory. There is no retirement, no redundancy, in God’s work, no point at which we become useless. Our ministries may have to change; we may need to do things differently, but God is able to renew our youth like the eagle’s, that bird whose soaring strength remains a picture of power and awesome ability in the natural world.